International Women’s Day is a day set aside by the United Nations to highlight achievements of the womenfolk, as well as commemorate their struggles for basic rights. I always chose a day like this to pay tribute to women whose different roles have molded me into who I am today.
Looking back, many have achieved the status of ‘jewels of inestimable value’ with the responsibilities they’ve shouldered, knowingly and unknowingly, in shaping my young mind into appreciating the world and its people in its true colours.
In the formative years of my life, somewhere between the ages of seven and 12, I came into contact with Patience Gilbert. Like most of my neighbours and colleagues, we were then students of Demonstration Nursery and Primary School, the staff school of the then Government Teachers College (TC) in Yola Town, then capital of Gongola State.
I left Demonstration Primary School in 1989, but 28 years after I last saw Patience, I am still savouring the impact she has had on my life, and, I am sure, many of our classmates would still be appreciating her for her brilliance. Patience was among the smallest in stature in class, but at the end of every school term, she stood taller than every one of us for her academic brilliance.
Patience had always emerged the top of her class every term from primary one until primary six, well, except for one term. How she managed to do that still beats my imagination considering the class had one of the brains in the history of the school. The only one time I recall Patience wasn’t top of the class was sometime in the second term of our Primary 4. I beat her to second position, and for the whole day since the result was released by our class teacher, Patience wept, and wept, and wept, uncontrollably, until her mother was summoned by the school authorities to console her.
The fierce competitive spirit in her, despite her small stature and despite being a boy-dominated environment, made a lasting mark on me. To right the wrongs of that second term in Primary 4, no one ever got close to her ‘dear’ first position until we left primary school.
During school term, Patience always served the role of a supplementary teacher by coming forward to share her knowledge with the class whenever the need arose. Many students met her in her spare time to ask questions about lessons taught, and she never failed to offer help in that regard. I’ve met many women in the course of those 28 years since I last saw and heard about Patience, but any time I remember her kind and warm heart, I smile.
I have two daughters, and I have always regaled them with the story of Patience and how she left each and every one of her classmates, their father inclusive, in her trail, which each one of us marveled at her brilliance.
At that young age, all we cared for was getting higher grades in class. I don’t know where Patience is at the moment, but if I could see her today, I will bring my daughters to her and tell the story of how she inspired me and my classmates to be better students. I will tell the story of how she deployed her brilliance, at no cost, to help less endowed classmates reach the finish line with a smile on their faces. I will tell the story of how a very young girl dominated her environment and set the pace for all to follow, and I will tell the story of how one of my biggest rivals in class was also my best friend, I will tell my daughters to aspire to be like Patience: daring, conquering, fearless and ultimately, a caring human being.
Happy International Women’s Day.
*Imam (@imamdimam) is a Sokoto-based journalist